Boris Diaw, the catalyst for one of the most important victories in Spurs history – their 111-92 win over the Miami Heat in Game 3 of the 2014 NBA Finals – has been traded to the Utah Jazz to clear the way for the signing of free agent center Pau Gasol.
A league source confirmed the trade, first reported by The Vertical.
The Spurs will receive from the Jazz the rights to guard Olivier Hanlan, selected in the second round of the 2016 draft by Utah.
With Diaw’s $7 million contract off the Spurs’ salary books they will have room under the NBA’s new $94.143 million salary cap to sign Pau Gasol to the two-year, $30 million contract the 35-year-old, 7-foot center agreed to on Monday.
Gasol on Tuesday officially confirmed his decision to join the Spurs in a posting on his Twitter account: “After many days of a lot of thinking, I’ve decided to join the @spurs! Looking forward to this new chapter with the best of aspirations.”
The Spurs also lost a second big man on Tuesday, 35-year-old David West, a veteran of 13 NBA seasons. One year after giving up more than $11 million in guaranteed salary with the Indiana Pacers to join the Spurs on a veteran minimum contract worth just $1.5 million, West agreed to join the Golden State Warriors on another veteran minimum deal, this one worth just $1.55 million.
West had opted out of the same $1.55 million second season of the two-year deal he signed with the Spurs last July.
Diaw’s four-plus seasons with the Spurs were marked by solid play that endeared him to both teammates and fans. A renaissance man who is a talented photographer and an author of children’s books, his reputation as one of the best passing big men in the game was cemented by his play in the Spurs’ redemptive run to the 2014 NBA title.
After a 98-96 loss in Game 2 cost the Spurs home court advantage in the best-of-seven series, Gregg Popovich started Diaw at center in Game 3 in Miami, with instructions to help the team turn to the ball movement that had characterized their play throughout most of the Western Conference playoff run. The result was some of the best passing ever seen in any NBA Finals game, ball movement that resulted in one open shot after another. The Spurs made an astounding 75.8% of their shots in the first half and led by 21, 71-50, at halftime. More importantly, their amazing movement changed the dynamics of the series and led to a dominant, 4-1 series victory and the team’s fifth NBA championship.
After helping France defeat The Philippines on Tuesday in a FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament game in Manila, Diaw took to Twitter to thank San Antonians for the support he received in his four-plus seasons in silver and black: “Spurs fans, thanks for all your messages. Great years here and a ring! Leaving but San Antonio will always be a special place to me.”
Diaw, who turned 34 in April, saw his production slip last season, when his playing time diminished, from 24.5 minutes per game in 2014-15 to 18.2 minutes. His scoring average went from 8.7 points per game to 6.4. His rebounding and assists numbers also fell. Worse, his playoff production dropped dramatically. Whereas he has averaged 11.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists in the seven games of the Spurs’ 2015 first-round series against the Clippers, he averaged only 5.2 points, 2.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists in the Spurs’ 2016 playoff run. He did not play at all in the Game 6 loss to the Thunder that ended the Spurs championship hopes.
West played in 78 regular season games in his one season with the Spurs, averaging 7.1 points and 4.0 rebounds. He was a valued locker room leader and his loss means the Spurs will need to secure help on their front line. If 40-year-old Tim Duncan decides to end his spectacular career, and speculation about his retirement has grown in recent days, they will have only two legitimate big men: Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge. They are committed to re-signing 7-foot-3 Boban Marjanovic, a restricted free agent whose offers from other teams they can match, but will likely want to add at least one more big man before the start of the 2016-17 season.
Top image: Boris Diaw of the San Antonio Spurs dodges Memphis defender Lance Stephenson on his way to the net during Game 1 of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the AT&T Center in San Antonio on April 19, 2016. Photo by Scott Ball.
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